Quentin Tarantino Directed CSI’s Best Episodes
Quentin Tarantino directed the CSI Season 5 two-parter, "Grave Danger," the best episodes in the history of the series and they have his fingerprints all over them.
Quentin Tarantino recently announced his tenth and final film, The Movie Critic, ending one of the greatest careers in Hollywood, so now’s as good a time as any to reflect on his strangest directing choice: two episodes of CSI. That’s right, back in 2005, Tarantino directed the CSI two-parter “Grave Danger” and, in the process, made the greatest episodes in the show’s long and storied history. The writer/director of Pulp Fiction brought his intense style to the small screen, resulting in the best combination since pineapple met pizza.
In 2005, CSI was the hottest show on television, while Kill Bill Volume 2 was released one year earlier, bringing together the show and director when each was at their height. The episode opens with the regular beat of a CSI, Nick Stokes (George Eads), arriving at the scene of a dead body; everything seems normal until he’s photographing evidence and abducted. Soon, it’s revealed that Nick is buried alive out in the Las Vegas desert, with only a few glowsticks, a loaded gun, and a cassette player with a taunting message from his abductor.
Quentin Tarantino wasn’t the first to put the characters in danger, after all, it was the second episode of the series that confirmed a major character was murdered. Since then, team members had been held at gunpoint, stalked (also Nick), and targeted by a serial killer (Grissom). “Grave Danger” increased the stakes, and with the close-up camera work of Nick in the coffin, viewers were able to feel the claustrophobia of being buried alive.
George Eads would later relate how excited he was to work with Quentin Tarantino when talking with CSI Files before the episodes aired. The director would be speaking to Eads, filming in a small plexiglass coffin, by taunting him and saying “your parents are watching you die” to get him to feel the panic and terror Nick would be experiencing. It was also true, technically, as the two actors playing his parents were there on the set.
The rest of the cast, Gil Grissom (William Peterson), Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), Warrick Brown (Gary Doudain), Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle), Sarah Sidle (Jorja Fox), and Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda) also had plenty of story of their own in the two-parter event. What makes “Grave Danger” the best episodes of the series is how the unique talents displayed by the characters all came into play to rescue their own. From Grissom identifying a bug to find the unique soil covering the coffin to Willows calling on her father, Casino mogul Sam Braun (Scott Wilson) for assistance.
In a tragic sense of timing, the scene with Catherine and her father in the casino includes Frank Gorshin, the Riddler from Adam West’s Batman, before he passed away just one day before the episode aired. The short time he’s on-screen provides a brief moment of levity in the intense episode, bouncing bad jokes off of Catherine, and managing a smile from her despite Nick being in danger.
Both parts of “Grave Danger” were critical hits and earned the kind of ratings that executives would kill for today. Part 1 managed 35 million live viewers when it first aired, over twice as many as the nearest competitor, The Apprentice. Quentin Tarantino was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, the only time he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy, losing out to J.J. Abrams for the pilot episode of Lost.
Watching “Grave Danger” now, it’s easy to find comparisons to Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2, which featured The Bride (Uma Thurman) buried alive at the hands of Budd (Michael Madsen). The camera work is similar, CSI is more focused on showing the entire coffin instead of remaining on closeups, but it’s a feature-film level of cinematography typically unheard of for a network procedural.
The Quentin Tarantino-directed episodes of CSI, “Grave Danger,” parts one and two, can be viewed on Paramount+ and Hulu. Before one of Hollywood’s greatest director’s hangs it up for good, take the time to watch them. Though CSI has hundreds more episodes, with award-winning guest stars, including Justin Bieber, the series was never as good as it was under the watchful eye of Tarantino.